Browse most fashion websites and you will think there is some very popular template being passed from one to the next. What happened to the fierce creativity of fashion brands?
The dispute between form and function is strong when it comes to websites, with usability being one of the first preoccupations of every designer. This, of course, is good and healthy. And yet, when it comes to fashion brands, especially high-end ones, results can be quite underwhelming.
Most fashion websites are basically e-commerce sites
Now more than ever, selling is a priority and users need not get lost in your fancy navigation. So it makes sense for fashion websites to adopt a very simple, straightforward approach focused on making it easy to find a product and put it in the cart.
The dark side of this reasoning, though, is digital sameness: by optimizing design and interaction according to shared rules, we all end up with the same product. Just look at websites from major fashion brands and you will think they just changed images and fonts. Grids are mostly the same, with a wide opening cover, “man/woman collection” boxes on the second screen, and maybe a link to the corporate page. Creativity is only channeled through videos and collection photos. Is this really inevitable?
Can fashion push forward digital as it did in other fields?
Fashion has been traditionally flirting with the best and edgiest artists, photographers, and creatives. Fashion has always been ahead of its time, breaking the rules and making new ones. It’s maddening to see it so cautious when it comes to digital.
While functionality is important, you can’t help to think that websites like these break the narrative of the brand, making it appear suddenly common. It seems like digital innovators are somehow escaping the gaze of fashion.
Digital experimentation as excess in fashion websites
What we see, usually, are small digital experiments that apply to single collections, products, or initiatives. In these cases, navigation in fashion websites often becomes game-like, with an abundance of 3D and animations. Take for example Gucci, which has been one of the most forward-thinking fashion brands lately. While the main website is quite conventional in navigation, the Maison has been experimenting with the Gucci Mascara Hunt, a retro-styled browser game. Another example is Max Mara’s Bearing Gifts. These are all funny, but they all seem to come from the same prejudice: an innovative fashion website must serve no real function but entertainment.
The genius is in the details
The best way is probably in the middle: innovation shouldn’t disrupt the user experience but it should create some friction that makes it memorable and conveys a point of view. Breaking expectations is key.
Take for example the website of Balenciaga: by making the navigation austere and essential, stripped of all images, it turns around fashion conventions and manages to stand out in a sea of lookalikes. Looking at smaller brands, Madina Visconti makes a good job at keeping navigation interesting (even though this mostly happens on desktops). Working on small details like menus, animations, scrolling, and filtering, will add unexpected twists and quirks and make the brand voice really come to life.
Examples are scarce, especially among big brands. Of course, this is not a judgment on graphics and photos – which are usually stunning – but on how these fashion websites work and behave. Fighting template addiction is a must.
A good resolution would be to steal from websites of other industries: while imitation is understandable and somewhat justified, reckless imagination is what will make fashion brands shine again.
A true challenge for digital design.
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